It’s very rare that an audience can unanimously agree an onstage adaptation does justice to the book it’s based on, especially when the source material is unlike any normal narrative that there has ever been. But once in a while, the truly remarkable happens, and an adaptation transfers from page to stage as if it was written to be so; this is the case with National Theatre’s play adaptation of Mark Hammond’s quirky novel The Curious Incident of The Dog In The Nighttime, a Great Britain production that Australia was lucky enough to have grace its shores.
For those unfamiliar with the best-selling story that has captured hearts across the world, The Curious Incident of The Dog In The Nighttime follows 15 year old Christopher Boone, a boy with behavioural issues that is implied to be stemmed from autism or aspergers syndrome, who is determined to document and solve the murder of his neighbour’s dog. Along the way, another mystery unfolds and resolves, all of which turns Christopher’s world upside down. To divulge anymore plot would risk giving away the ending (which, if you have read the novel, you would already know, and if you haven’t read the novel, need to immediately to find out what I’m referring to).
It’s not just the twists and turns of this tale that engrossed its readers; it was the unique narration, from a detached but also intriguing and endearing perspective not many of us see from or can understand. It was this element, the narrative voice, that had many avid fans of the novel concerned would not transfer over to the production, hence losing one of its most important features. However, playwright Simon Stephens, also an avid fan of the novel, cleverly integrated Christopher’s perspective by creating a play-within-a-play effect that allowed the character’s voice to come through. The script retained all the significant thoughts, moments and mood of the novel, never sacrificing important details and at times showing them rather than telling.
The Tony award winning direction of Marianne Elliot is sensational, a beautiful blend of realism, comedy, and physical theatre (courtesy of Frantic Assembly directors). The 33 character performances by the 11 person ensemble were fantastic, evidently tightly devised and rehearsed in nuanced (and faithful) character portrayals, physical theatre moments where the ensemble worked together to fly Christopher through the air or walk him on walls, and quick costume changes. The undoubtable stand out of the evening was Joshua Jenkins as the lead Christopher, whose endless energy truly carried the audience through the long show. The set by Bunny Christie, a (literally measured) cubic performance space designed to represent the inside of Christopher’s mathematical mind, was original and unusual, just like the character it was designed to reflect. Combined with the colourful and clever lighting design by Paule Constable, and the crisp and chaotic video projections by Finn Ross, it perfectly portrayed moments of over-stimulation those on the spectrum can experience, truly bringing the audience into Christopher’s head.
Music by Adrian Sutton was mood-evoking especially in moments where speech ceased, and sound design by Ian Dickinson helped depict the many settings through which Christopher ventured. Moments that blew me away include the search under the bed with a single flashlight, the onstage construction of the train set to show Christopher’s detachment from what was happening around him but also to represent the journey he was about to take, the cameo from a puppy, and Christopher’s presentation of how he solved his A-level maths problem post curtain-call, representing the appendix in the novel, once again showing how above and beyond this show went to stay faithful to the book.
Overall, The Curious Incident of The Dog In The Nighttime was an almost flawless adaptation (almost – the seating was not appropriate to the cubed performance space, many audience members, particularly those on the floor to the sides had issues viewing the whole stage and projections were easily missed, but this speaks more to a venue issue than anything). It was a play that made its audience laugh, cry, gasp and sigh; sigh not just with happiness, but relief that the stage adaptation truly captured the heart of the sensational story of The Curious Incident of The Dog In The Nighttime.
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
The Curious Incident of The Dog In The Nighttime has now finished its Australian tour. This review is based on the performance viewed on Thursday the 2nd of August at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre Theatre at 7:30pm.
Thumbnail image from stageagent.com